The EDGE class in the 2021 NFL Draft is an interesting one. Each of the potential top pass rushing prospects brings something different to the table.
In the case of Joseph Ossai of Texas, those traits are explosive athleticism and uncommon versatility. Ossai was able play multiple positions at Texas and truly threaten offensive tackles with his speed from a variety of alignments. That versatility should be an asset in a modern NFL defense which makes use of a variety of fronts to match up with high-octane offenses. But the question has to be asked whether he wore too many hats for the Texas defense and whether he would be better served by concentrating on one job.
Prospect: Joseph Ossai
Games Watched: vs. TCU (2019), vs. Iowa (2020), vs. Oklahoma State (2020), vs. TCU (2020)
Games Played: 29
Tackles For a loss: 30.0
Forced Fumbles: 5
Passes Defensed: 3
Games Played: 9
Tackles For a loss: 15.5
Forced Fumbles: 3
Passes Defensed: 2
Best: Athleticism, versatility, lower-body fluidity, leverage
Worst: Play strength, angles to the ball
Projection: Developmental EDGE with starting upside in a multiple defense.
Texas EDGE Joseph Ossai has an impressive blend of size and athleticism, as well as experience playing multiple positions.
Ossai typically aligned as an outside pass rusher in Texas’ defense, playing both rush linebacker and a defensive end out of a 3-point stance. He also has experience as a true off-ball linebacker as well, at times playing both outside and inside linebacker.
Ossai has a very good get-off and first step, with the ability to explode off the ball and accelerate hard into the backfield. He has a good get-off from both a two or three-point stance and is able to play with leverage from both stances. He is able to get close to top speed in his first two or three steps and has the lower-body fluidity to carry that speed into the backfield as a pass rusher. Ossai shows active hands in his rushes, mixing several pass rush moves to keep offensive linemen from engaging cleanly when he is rushing with speed. He primarily uses rip and long-arm moves, but can also bull rush or convert speed into power.
He is a high-effort run defender, working to set a firm edge on the playside and showing great hustle in backside pursuit. Ossai tends to trust his athleticism and can choose highly aggressive angles to the ball.
Ossai is more of a speed player than a power rusher. While he can stand up to blockers and set a firm edge, he can be pushed around by bigger or longer blockers, particularly when he loses leverage. He is also more of a “read and react” player than a truly instinctive one, which can lead to slight hesitations in his play. Ossai can show a slight hesitation in his first step, particularly if he doesn’t have a feel for the timing of the snap. Likewise, he can show some slight hesitation in decision making after the snap as he sorts out misdirection.
Ossai’s aggression in choosing angles to the ball can get him in trouble as well, as he can over-pursue or run himself out of position at times. He is usually a reliable tackler, but can be prone to missed or broken tackles — or losing his balance — when he tries to make a tackle attempt after taking a poor angle.
Overall Grade: 8.4 - This prospect has a high athletic ceiling and should be a valuable contributor early in his career.
Joseph Ossai projects as a starting EDGE in an attacking, one-gap defense which uses multiple fronts and personnel alignments.
“Multiple” defenses will likely be intrigued by Ossai’s athleticism, movement skills, and experience playing off-ball as well as on the line of scrimmage. While he shouldn’t be put in man coverage, Ossai does have enough athleticism to drop into zone coverage or play the run from an off-ball alignment. That could allow a lot of freedom for a creative defensive coordinator to scheme unconventional wrinkles and pressure packages.
Ossai has the potential to be a disruptive speed rusher, particularly as he gets more time at the EDGE position to refine his hand usage and make sure he is always able to maximize his leverage. Ossai’s acceleration off the line of scrimmage while bending the edge to carry speed into the backfield should make him a consistent threat as a pass rusher. Likewise, he has a varied enough toolbox to win with speed or to convert speed into power when blockers are anticipating his speed.
Coaches will want to work with him to speed up his processing, and being able to spend more time in the classroom and in film study could help him pick up offensive keys more quickly. But even so, Ossai’s athletic traits and technical foundation should allow him to be a productive and disruptive rusher early in his career.